Kenny Garcia-Vargas, Traffic Specialist
Tampa Airport has been good to me. I was so excited to come work for the Authority. It was a dream come true.
Tampa International Airport’s traffic specialists are the unsung heroes of the Airport, keeping the ever-increasing number of vehicles at the curbsides moving and preventing the pick-up and drop-off areas from turning into a logjam.
Kenny Garcia-Vargas might be the exception to the unsung. Passengers began writing compliment letters about him years ago as a TPA economy garage shuttle driver for ABM Industries, and in 2010, he appeared on the CBS reality show “Undercover Boss,” in which fired the ABM CEO – rightly so – and the CEO called him a “star.” His personality caught the attention of a Tampa Bay Times reporter in 2014, prompting the newspaper to write a profile about him. ABM, which manages parking services for TPA, even sent Kenny to Wall Street once to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
Kenny’s stellar customer service brought him so much attention as a shuttle driver that when the Airport did away with the economy shuttles because of the new SkyConnect train, the Aviation Authority hired Kenny in 2017 as a traffic specialist, keeping him in the TPA family.
“Tampa Airport has been good to me,” Kenny said. “I was so excited to come work for the Authority. It was a dream come true.”
Kenny feels as though his life has been a series of blessings, beginning with his mother moving with him and his three sisters from Puerto Rico to Tampa when he was 9 years old. He remembers his first Christmas in the mainland and learning about Santa Claus.
“I was like, “What? A big jolly man who brings you candy and gifts?” Kenny recalled.
Kenny was always the entertainer of the family. At parties, his mother would tell him to get out on the floor and dance to pick up the mood and get people moving. So Kenny got out there and danced.
After graduating from Alonso High, Kenny began working for ABM at age 20, first operating the overnight shuttle shift and working in other positions over the years, including as a dispatcher, a trainer and a cashier.
“You name it, I’ve done it,” Kenny said. “I even detailed cars at one point.”
But where Kenny has shined the most is when he’s interacting with people, and as a TPA traffic specialist, he’s certainly makes an impression. While most drivers don’t like to be told to move their vehicles, Kenny does it with a gentle and friendly touch, and sometimes makes some friends along the way. A gentleman tried to pay him once for directing him to a taxi, and when Kenny refused, the man threw $200 out the window at him as the cab was driving away. Kenny radioed the police for help and turned over the money.
Kenny credits one personality trait for most of his success.
“Understanding,” he said. “How can I respect something if I can’t understand it? If I know a coworker is from another country, I’ll look up their culture and try to remember special holidays. I don’t get offended easily. It’s important to understand where people come from and how they want to be treated.”
He’s also not shy, which helps. If he has met someone once – including TPA CEO Joe Lopano – go out of his way to shout hello and wave from the curbside, letting him or her know he remembers them.
As outgoing as Kenny is at his job, he’s surprisingly hermit-like once he gets home. He always prefers staying in to going out, and he doesn’t even like to watch TV. He’d rather spend time talking to his wife Jennifer Miranda, a high school sweetheart, about her day and cuddling with his new, 5-month-old daughter Ariana. He’s determined to be a devoted family man, no matter how busy of a day he’s had or what else is going on in his life.
“Growing up with a single mom and three sisters, I saw a lot of heartbreak,” Kenny said. “It’s made me want to be that much more of a husband and father.”
Kenny was recently promoted to Senior Traffic Specialist, and while he’s happy about his success in his position, he credits his team members for how much they help him in his daily job. He’s not the only traffic specialist out there looking to help others, he said, and they all deserve their time in the spotlight.
“If I’m helping out a customer, I make sure I call over another coworker helping me and introduce them,” Kenny said. “I want the customers to know their names too.”